Old plant catalogs use to list Neanthe bella as Collinia elegans, others as Chamaedorea elegans. In Hortus II, L. H. Bailey says that Neanthe is probably Collinia elegans, and that Collinia differs from Chamaedorea in its inner floral envelope of flowers.
So you pays your money and you takes your choice. But by whatever name you decide to call it, this pigmy palm is a definite asset to any house plant collection.
Native to Mexico and Central America, Neanthe bella was discovered around 1900 in Yucatan. It is a true palm, and has all the grace and airiness of the larger ones, without the necessity of growing it in a cumbersome container that takes superhuman strength to move at cleaning time.
Nor is it likely that the day will come all too soon when you must choose between discarding a huge monster or cutting a hole in the ceiling as being the only way of accommodating its branches. Slow growing, Neanthe bella will remain at a comfortable height, reaching maturity in a six- or eight-inch pot only after a great many years of growth.
It has a decided advantage, too, over the larger palms in that it will adapt itself to growing in any number of places because of its diminutive size – on a mantel, a piano, a coffee table, or wherever your fancy dictates.
And its versatility is limited only by the extent of one’s own imagination. What could be more appropriate on Palm Sunday than a small grouping of these as a centerpiece for your dinner table?
They can be attractive, also, in a dish garden with other small, low-growing plants that like the same growing conditions. With the increasing interest in Bonsai, which can remain indoors only a few days at a time, here is an excellent substitute, one that needs never to go outside.
Like its larger brethren, it will survive shade, dryness, and a variation of temperatures; in fact, it has more cold tolerance than the larger varieties. Do not, however, subject it to too much sun.
If you want to grow it in a sunny window, be sure to place it in the shadow of other plants, as it much prefers a shady spot to too much direct sunlight. Or filter the sunlight with a curtain.
While Neanthe bella will tolerate a dry atmosphere, it will not take kindly to drying out of the soil, and water is especially important during the winter months when the furnace is in operation.
For this reason, I grow them in wick-fed plastic planters, which furnish the right amount of moisture automatically to grow these palms successfully.
When I purchased my first one in late September, it had three healthy fronds and a new one sprouting. Grown in the winter months in a rather gloomy corner in a small 3 inch pot, it was one of those plants generally overlooked at watering time. The smallest frond soon withered and died, and the new sprout remained static throughout the winter.
Early in the spring, it was removed from the pot, and placed in one of these wick-fed planters, (plastic drink glasses work as well) the only other growing medium, other than the soil clinging to the rootball, being finely screened leaf mold.
Placed in a lighter spot, the plant responded promptly, and the new shoot grew rapidly and had scarcely unfurled before a second one made its appearance.
Neanthe bella produces new fronds every four to six weeks, although this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes it will decide to take a short vacation, waiting a few weeks before going back into production.
You can propagate new plants from your own seed, too, but there are several “ifs” involved – if you grow both a male and a female plant; if you can succeed in producing blooms on both simultaneously; if you can wait a year for the seed to ripen; and if you have the patience to wait another year or so for the seeds to germinate.
Plants, however, are so cheaply priced, that all the time and trouble involved in raising your own plants scarcely seems worth the bother. Incidentally, Neanthe does bloom, but plants must be at least three years old before they produce their flowers.
Keep an eye open for mealybugs, red spider, and thrips, especially if you grow a great number of other house plants.
Mealybug can be easily eradicated by dipping a cotton swab into alcohol and applying to the pest. I like Neem oil insecticide as the natural insecticide of choice.
A cold shower, vigorously applied to topside and underside of the plant, will effectively control red spider, for this dousing literally gives the little beasties pneumonia. Thrips, unfortunately, are a tougher breed, and gassing them is the only solution.
So, unless you have a detached greenhouse where this method can be carried out safely, it would be better to discard infected plants.
Don’t let these pests deter you, however, in the pleasure of growing this miniature gem. So far – and I tap wood – my plants have remained clean.